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Which Nikon DSLR Camera For New Photographers?

Updated on October 24, 2016

Why Nikon?

The simple answer is....I have always used Nikon. The more complex answer is, if you go with any of the major manufacturers - Canon, Sony, Nikon or Olympus and a few others - you can't go wrong. I started down the path of Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera with Nikon and I have never regretted it. The fact that my wife was a Nikon user when we met only made life easier. Which Nikon DSLR camera?

My first DSLR was a Nikon D40 that I purchased for a trip to Africa. I was determined that I was not going to go on a trip this epic with a basic point and shoot camera. How I stumbled into Nikon? A salesman and I looked at both the Canon and the Nikon and I liked the Nikon better. I have many friends who love their Canons and they produce great images.

Nikon D3100

Which Nikon Camera?  This is a D3100
Which Nikon Camera? This is a D3100 | Source

Where to begin?

My wife and I have used the D40, D60, D3100, D700 and D600, these have all been great cameras. We use the D700 and D600 in our professional portrait studio and the images they produce for our clients are amazing, however, I don't recommend the professional series for the average photographer. Why not? If you want to spend a lot of money on a camera body and a lens, go for it! You will enjoy using the pro series. You will also have a much larger, heavier camera body and larger, more expensive lenses to carry around with you. In fact, if we were not in the portrait business, we would probably have stayed with the D7000 series (not to be confused with the D700).

The D3000, D5000 and D7000 series cameras are all "DX" sensor cameras. A DX sensor is a slightly smaller sensor than the "FX" series sensors used in the larger D610, D750, D5, etc. series cameras. Do not confuse sensor size (DX vs. FX) with megapixels. This is a different measurement. The DX is physically smaller sensor size than the FX sensor but there are DX sensors with 24 megapixels and FX with 14 megapixels.

The FX sensor really shows its stuff when you are shooting in low light - think wedding. There are some other benefits, but this is why most portrait photographers use the FX, or "Full-Frame" digital cameras. Canon makes excellent full-frame series cameras too.

If you are the average user, you will get amazing photos out of a DX series camera, do no think that a DX sensor is only for the home user. For several reasons many professional photographers use DX series cameras - professional wildlife photographers are one specialty. Nikon builds a professional series DX camera for specific needs.

Nikon D3000 series vs. Nikon D5000 series

In this corner, we find the D3000 series (D3100, D3200, D3300 and new D3400). The D3000 series cameras are a great first DLSR. I used a D3100 series for many years. The camera has traveled coast to coast many times, up to Alaska to shoot the Iditarod and the Aurora Borealis. It has hiked Yosemite Valley and Glacier Park. The images it captured are still some of my favorites and many sell regularly as stock photography images for us. The basic lenses the come with the camera are great, but if you want to upgrade there are many options. I've covered these in my blog at www.twodaysindublin.com.

The D3100 uses a 14 megapixel camera, the D3200, D3300 and D3400 all use 24 megapixel sensors. Not everything in photography is about megapixels. Very few people will ever print their photos larger than a 10x12 and a 14 megapixel camera will produce prints larger than that size. However, the extra megapixels are handy if you tend to take wide photographs and need to crop them later - thus keeping you from cutting off your great aunt's forehead in the annual family photo. A 24 Megapixel sensor will give you plenty of resolution to crop as needed.

The processor in each of these cameras has improved with each version. This allows the camera to process the image more quickly and put it onto the memory card. The processor speed is also important when you are shooting in low light conditions. The newer processor allows the camera to take photos in lower light (higher ISO) conditions.

The D3400 is the latest version of this series and adds in Bluetooth to allow transfer of photos to your phone, tablet or computer, it is lighter and the battery will last for a larger number of shots.

Each generation has also improved the quality of the digital movies that can be captured. The D3100 will take basic HD movies, but the newer D3300 is a much more capable video camera. I rarely shoot video, so am not in a position to give a strong review.

The D5000 series camera is a step up. This is a camera for an intermediate amateur photographer. The body size of the camera is slightly larger than the D3000 series but very similar. There are a few added features that the beginner will never use. If you want to buy this series as your first DLSR, you can't go wrong, but if you only use the "Automatic" mode and let the camera do the work, you are probably spending money you don't need to. The D5300 has 39 focus points in the auto-focus system and can shoot at 5 frames per second.

The progression of the D5000 series parallels the D3000 series. The D5100 was a 16 megapixel camera while the D5200 and D5300 use 24 megapixel sensors - the D5300 is a more advanced version. The processors advanced with each new version allowing faster processing and lower light shooting.

The autofocus system between from the D5100 to the D5200 jumped from 11 to 39 focus points. This is important if you like to shoot sports or other fast moving or complex subjects.



Nikon D7000 Series

The D7000 series is starting to edge towards the professional end of the spectrum. The body is noticeably larger than the D5000 series. It is almost the same camera body as the FX series D610. The controls are different from the D3000/D5000 series cameras and more closely resemble the higher end cameras from Nikon.

I like the feel of the D7000 series and seriously considered adding one to our camera bags. The larger body allows the addition of an extra card slot to store images - this can provide you with a backup in case one of your cards is damaged or corrupted.

The D7000 is an impressive camera with a 16 megapixel sensor. The D7100 steps it up to a 24 megapixel sensor. The D7100 increases the focus points from 39 up to 51. Both have very good low light performance and a good 6 frames per second shooting rate.

The newer D7200 is another leap in performance over the earlier version. The new sensor in the D7200 allows images to be captured in much lower light. This is a great feature if you are trying to take photos without a flash in dark locations. If your primary need for a camera is capturing your kids outdoor sports competition or the family vacation, then this is a feature in search of a need.

The D7000 series cameras are top of the line consumer level cameras. Many professional photographers use the D7000 series. Is it a good choice for the average home photographer? Probably not. The body is noticeably larger and heavier than the D3000/D5000 series. The number of features available, while useful, can be overwhelming unless you like to read manuals or have a strong background in photography.

Can the average home photographer pick up a D7000 series and use it to take good family photos? Absolutely! But have you ever seen the guy who owns a big 4x4 pickup and only uses it to commute to the office? It's kind of like that.

Reader Poll

Which of these Nikon Series do you own (or recommend)?

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Which Nikon DLSR For A New Photographer?

So, which Nikon DSLR camera? If you want to purchase a Nikon D5, the current top of the line camera from Nikon, you can. I am not one of those people who only thinks professional photographers should own professional cameras - Nikon will build more. It is overkill? Yes, and truthfully, buying a camera that is too far above your skill level will not appreciably increase the quality of your photographs. A good photographer can use a smartphone and take amazing photographs - the eyes behind the viewfinder determine quality more than the label on the camera.

What do I recommend to my friends when they ask me which camera to buy? I first ask them about their current skill level and also where they want to be in a few years. Then I ask them how they are going to use the camera. Do you want to take pictures of a dance recital or baseball game but also be able to take great pictures of next years trip to the Grand Tetons?

If you realize that you will probably use Automatic mode most of the time, a D3000 series is probably the best camera for you. Take the money you save and invest in one or two good lenses. If you think you want to develop your photography skills, then look into the D5000 series.

Which Nikon DSLR camera in the series? Find the best buy on the newest or one generation older and you will have a great camera. Looking for an inexpensive way to get into DSLR photography? Look for a good used D3300 or D5100 and then start investing in new lenses. A good lens will stay with you through multiple camera bodies and are almost always a good investment.

So, Nikon fans, what is your favorite of these series?

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    • profile image

      Reader 19 months ago

      Really appreciated the amount of information included here -- detailed enough without making the decision overwhelming for an amateur photographer!

    • Hanzamfafa profile image

      Mike Leal 20 months ago from London

      Great Hub. i love Nikon, too. Thanks for sharing.